Camping in winter gives you a whole new perspective on the great outdoors and awakens all those survival instincts that you thought had died off with your great-grandparents. It forces you to focus on the little things while being overawed by how amazing the world feels under a blanket of snow. As long as you’re adequately prepared, winter camping is one of those things you just have to try.
Here are some essential hacks for keeping you warm, safe and comfortable on your winter adventure.
Leave the Cottons at Home
The key to staying warm is wearing lots of layers, but you want to stick with synthetic or wool fabrics. They’re going to trap the heat and keep it close to your body, while cottons will absorb sweat and stay damp. Pack a complete set of extra layers to sleep in, and bring at least two pairs of mitts and hats. Pay attention to your body temperature, and take a layer off before you start to sweat, and put it back on as soon as you start to feel chilled.
Make a Hot Water Bottle
Before climbing into your sleeping bag, warm it up with a hot water bottle. Melt enough snow to fill a large water bottle, and heat it to the point where it’s just short of boiling. Fill your bottle and wrap it in a fleece shirt or extra pair of long-johns. Zip it into your sleeping bag for fifteen minutes or so before you retire to take the chill off your bed and ensure you don’t start the night by shivering.
Fire is Your Friend
Forget about trying to gather firewood in winter. Even if you’re camping somewhere that allows you to hunt and gather, anything you find is likely to be green, wet or rotted. Bring your own wood unless you’re absolutely certain you can find some for sale near your location. Your fire is going to be your best friend after a day of playing in the snow, so make sure to bring enough wood, paper, and matches. If you don’t have kindling, bring a hatchet. If you’re camping at some distance from your vehicle, bring a sled to haul your wood. If you’re drinking the snow, you’ll need lots of fuel because even if the white stuff looks clean, you need to boil it to eliminate all bacteria.
Pick and Prepare the Right Site
If you pick a lousy spot for your tent in summer, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll get soaking wet. In winter, poor planning will leave you cold, miserable, and hoping the car starts in the middle of an arctic night. Start by staying away from tree branches that are weighted with snow. They can break and cause damage or injury, especially if the wind picks up. Pack down the snow before pitching your tent to get an even surface and stop yourself from sinking at night or tearing the floor if you step into a soft hole. Make sure you have an extra tarp to cover anything you leave outside in case it snows.
Use Portable Power Packs
All electronics drain their batteries at a faster rate in the cold, so come prepared. Bring a power pack or use lithium batteries. They perform better and will last three times as long as your regular ones.
Pad Your Bag
Even the warmest sleeping bag needs something underneath it in winter. The best option is a closed-cell foam pad with an R-value of at least four. You can also layer your clothing between the pad and the bag to keep them warm for the morning. Shove your boot liners inside, or wrap your boots in plastic and sleep with them at the bottom of your bag. Throw your jacket on top for an extra layer of warmth and make sure to keep your head covered.
Extra tip: Sleeping bags with a black interior dry faster during the day if you turn them inside out and lay them on top of your tent in the sun.
It’s the little things that make winter camping pleasurable. Like a pee bottle. Just make sure it’s labeled properly to avoid confusion. And Vaseline. Rub it over all body parts that will be exposed to the elements to avoid frostbite and windburn. Finally, bring some candles. As long as you put it in a safe place, a single candle will warm your tent and cut back on the condensation.
Wherever you’re going this winter, make sure to leave directions with a friend so that other people know exactly where to find you if you don’t get home when expected. Winter camping has its particular challenges, but if you’re well prepared it is no more dangerous, and certainly no less fun, than sleeping under the stars in the balmy months of summer.